As many of you already know, I’ve been living in a box for the last two decades so I know nothing about anything. Perhaps less. That means I didn’t know about SCHNELLERTOLLERMEIER. I can see that the name is basically the surnames of the band’s members but there’s an ‘R’ missing. I also think the upper case is important so that is how I will refer to them. They are stablemates of some very interesting artists on Cuneiform Records but that isn’t any help as Cuneiform is pretty eclectic.
I’d heard a snippet of their stuff on Soundcloud and my initial reaction was favourable so I had a look on the Cuneiform website before giving this a proper listen. SCHNELLERTOLLERMEIER cite Mr. Bungle as one of their influences. I once played some Mr. Bungle YouFace videos to my kids and it traumatized them. I may as well have shown them a snuff movie. So I was looking forward to this! I don’t do sarcasm very well. In my twisted little way I was genuinely looking forward to this.
In 2006 youngsters Manuel Troller, Andi Schnellmann and David Meier – on guitar bass and drums, respectively – formed SCHNELLERTOLLERMEIER. The biography of the band on their label’s website says they are “a band sounding like one compact organism, with every element having its own importance and clear function”.
X is beautifully recorded and mixed. I can almost see the skins resonate on the drum kit. That attention to detail is evident in capturing every noise that the band makes. Despite the production values, this is not an easy album to listen to.
An incredibly tight and well-disciplined unit, this is a very talented bunch of musicians. The music is complex, extremely rhythmical and, within the confines that they undoubtedly set for themselves, varied. They aren’t messing about either. The twenty minute title track, also the first on the album, is brutal. If anyone ever asked them to turn out more universally accessible music I would suspect that they would shrug their shoulders and carry on as they are and pay that request little attention.
I liked the use of harmonics and percussion. In fact, the album struck me as being more about rhythm and percussion than it was about riffs or melody or hooks. The appeal I’m sensing is more to the intellect than to emotion. No matter how complex the music I need that emotional response so that I can engage with the music. I started wondering whether this was written using the language of pure maths. In that this music is capable of being felt physically, deep down in your belly, it can produce an emotional response but it is because of the sheer force of the performance rather than through any of the usual musical artifice.
I have boasted in the past that I like a challenging listen. I like stuff that might remind me of other stuff but not stuff that sounds like other stuff. Well, I’d over-simplified that statement. I found myself admiring how clever X was and how clever SCHNELLERTOLLERMEIER are. I found myself wondering what some of my musician friends would think of it. But I also missed that elusive musical quality that makes me want to drum along. There are no attempts at inducing mawkish sentimentality, none that that I could detect. I liked that… it is as if they are presenting pure music. Any emotional investment isn’t because you are being manipulated by using a sad key or chord progression. It is what it is and you get from it what you get.
It is a physical album but not one that elicits an emotional response in me. The one track that I did engage with was the last; the cryptically entitled:
Having said that, I wasn’t struck with an overwhelming desire to play it or the rest of the album again any time soon. Not because it is a bad album, just because it is so very hard going.
This is experimental music, but I ask, if experiments are designed to test an hypothesis then what hypothesis are SCHNELLERTOLLERMEIER testing? Does that even matter? Often bands are lauded for their ability to make uncompromising music that they are clearly making for themselves. I can’t just dismiss this by saying SCHNELLERTOLLERMEIER are just making this music for themselves. I suspect that they don’t give a monkey’s whether their music is liked or not. I bet, however, that they would like their music to be appreciated. That may be more important than merely being liked. I just think that they have an emphasis on and broader definition of the word “appreciate”.
Perhaps for SCHNELLERTOLLERMEIER the reason for this music to exist is far more related to technical ability. Maybe that is what we must appreciate – as opposed to who is going to like it. As a bit of an amateur musician I have this arrogant presumption that I listen to things in a different way to people who don’t play an instrument. That may be true (it probably isn’t) but it might not be a good way to review music for a broader audience, most of whom probably don’t play but still have a sophisticated ear. But sometimes you experience something that makes you re-evaluate what you think about yourself.
In any case, this material deserves to be heard. It is extreme and it shows how good extreme music can be. It is indicative of the breadth of the musical spectrum and it shows that the spectrum can be stretched.
Perhaps that is the experiment in “Experimental Music”.
You are not going to put this album on and be bored, but you will have to actively listen to get value from this music. It is not for the faint-hearted, this is an album made by supremely talented musicians probing the limits of what three people in a band can achieve. I reckon the audience is likely to be other musicians and anyone with a sense of adventure.
01. X (20:24)
02. Backyard Lipstick (2:03)
03. Riot (3:26)
04. Sing For Me (3:31)
05. Massacre Du Printemps (8:32)
06. ///\\\/// (5:28)
Total Time – 43:24
Andi Schnellmann – Bass
David Meier – Drums
Manuel Troller – Guitar
Record Label: Cuneiform Records
Release Date: 2015
Compositions: Troller (1, 5, 6), Meier (3), Schnellmann/Troller/Meier (2,4)